The Muslim state of Pakistan was founded in 1947, as a result of religious conflicts in British India. The country consisted of two geographically separate areas. West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were not only spatially separated by 1,600 km by India, but were also culturally and ethnically divided. The population of Pakistan was predominantly Muslim, while there were between 10 and 12 million (approximately 13% of the population) Hindus alongside Bengal speaking Muslims in Bangladesh.
There were many linguistic, cultural and ethnic differences. The Pakistani Muslims viewed the Bengali Muslims as inferior because they were allegedly influenced by the Hindu culture and population. Pakistan’s military regime frequently intervened in Bangladesh to oppress the population’s will. When many students and other citizens began to resist, they faced even more restrictions. As a result, the Bangladesh Awami League was founded to protect Bengali interests.
The Bangladesh Awami League won nearly all seats during the December 1970 and March 1971 elections of the National Assembly, and therefore became Pakistan’s leading party. Due to their recommendation for Bangladesh to become independent, they were, however, unacceptable for the Pakistani military dictatorship. Pakistan’s president, Yahya Khan, prohibited the Awami League after short and half-hearted negotiations. At the same time, generals of the Pakistani army initiated plans for a genocide, aiming to prevent Bangladesh’s independence. On the 22nd February 1971, president Khan talked about the Final Solution: “We must kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of the palm of our hand.”
In March 1971, the Pakistani army initiated a campaign of ethnic cleansing, known as “Operation Searchlight”, the aim of which was to destroy Bangladesh’s political and military opposition. All foreign journalists were expelled from the country. On 25 March 1971, the army invaded the Bengali capital of Dhaka and killed almost 7,000 people. The victims were mainly students and intellectuals, members of the Awami League, Bengals, Hindus and police officers. Instead of being intimidated, Bangladesh announced their independence from Pakistan the following day.
An army was set up immediately but it couldn’t oust the Pakistani military from the country. Instead, chaos, eviction and countless dead were the result. Approximately 30 million people fled from the cities to the countryside, and more than 10 million fled to India. All the while the Bengali army were conducting uncoordinated counter-attacks, the Pakistani military committed mass murders.
Young men who were able to fight were arrested, tortured and killed. Their corpses were found in fields and rivers. The perpetrators checked if the boys and men were circumcised like “proper Muslims”. If they were, they were often allowed to live, and if they weren’t, it meant certain death. They worked from a death list of Hindus and intellectuals, and whole villages were eradicated.
Mass rapes of girls and women were a frequently used “weapon”. Between 200,000 and 400,000 females ranging from 8 to 75 years old were abused either at home in front of their families or in so-called rape camps.
Bangladesh subsequently deployed more and more guerrilla troops and even asked the global community for help. India was overburdened with more than 10 million refugees, and began to support the Bengali troops out of fear for the destabilisation of the region. Pakistan then attacked India and with that a war between the two countries began. Pakistan ultimately surrendered on the 16th December 1971, and India put a stop to the genocide.
#A war between the Pure and the Impure
Throughout the 9 months of conflict, approximately 3 million people were killed and more than 40 million people were forced to flee. The Pakistani army directed their malice towards Bengali rebel and civilian alike, and it did not take long for the violence to escalate: entire villages were destroyed, and mass executions and mass rapes occurred daily. Even though they focussed on destroying Hindus, the majority of victims were in fact Bengali Muslims – since they were viewed as different and inferior. They were allegedly too soft, too tolerant and too secular. Pakistan wanted to construct a homogeneous state of loyal and devout Muslims.
„A war between the pure and the impure. The people here may have Muslim names and call themselves Muslims. But they are Hindu at heart. We are now sorting them out…Those who are left will be real Muslims.“
The Pakistani army managed to mobilise various groups, including police officers, fundamentalist Muslims and criminals. To this day, the perpetrators have yet to face any punishment, since the genocide was followed by political upheavals and “national amnesia”. India presented the case to the International Court of Justice on the grounds that Pakistan’s actions during the war were a breach of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). These accusations were later withdrawn due to India’s diplomatic agreement with Pakistan.
The international community preferred to view the conflict as a civil war rather than a genocide. The US even suppressed internal reports that referred to the conflict as a genocide. Even the most renowned American critics were reluctant to do so, presumably because the US played no prominent role in the conflict.
Bangladesh repeatedly called for aid from the international community, and India appealed to the UN to intervene. However, the UN deemed Pakistan’s sovereignty as the highest priority. Pakistan was supported by non-Arabic Muslim states – the US and China. India was the only state supporting the Bengali and was sharply criticised for doing so.
# Spencer, P. (2012) Genocide since 1945 – Making of the Contemporary World. London and New York: Routledge.
Spencer (2012) pp. 63
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Spencer (2012) pp. 63 – 64
Spencer (2012) pp. 64 – 65
Spencer (2012) pp. 65
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